Winter Salad with Butternut Squash, Greens, Chicken and Candied Pecans

This salad!

winter saladI should have taken more pictures of it. This isn’t even really the finished salad, just the almost-finished salad. The finished version disappeared too fast to take pictures.  (The finished salad has chopped nuts and dressing on it).

This is the perfect winter salad, and the perfect antidote the cookies, cakes, cocktails, and candy that apparently we’re supposed to all be making and eating because it’s the holiday season.  Cookies are good and all but this salad is actually real food that’s delicious and you can eat for dinner and not feel like death afterwards.  butternut squash cubesThe salad components are simple: roasted butternut squash and red onions, a bag of salad mix from the farmers market, leftover roasted chicken, and some chopped candied pecans.   Oil and vinegar, salt and pepper, then it’s ready to eat. candied pecansThe candied pecans are a whole separate story…  My next door neighbors gave me a bag of pecans from their trees, and I guess I drank a ton of coffee the other day and actually sat down and shelled them all and made this recipe from Smitten Kitchen for Sugar and Spice Candied Nuts.  It took forever to shell all of them, but jars of the finished nuts are nice Christmas presents that took time instead of money, which was very of important to me this year.   You could certainly substitute any kind of toasted nuts if you don’t feel like making this recipe, although I highly recommend it.  There’s a pinch of cayenne pepper in the spice mix that coats the nuts that really makes it taste amazing.

Here’s wishing everyone a wonderful holiday season and a happy new year! I hope you all are warm and happy, with good food on your table and friends and family close by.

WINTER SALAD with Butternut Squash, Roast Chicken and Candied Pecans

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1″ cubes
  • 1 red onion, sliced into thin wedges
  • a few sprigs of fresh herbs: thyme, oregano, rosemary, whatever you have is fine
  • sea salt and black pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • vinegar: apple cider vinegar or whatever you have
  • 1/2 lb. of mixed salad greens: use a spicy mix with some arugula and mustard greens in it
  • 1/2 c. candied pecans, roughly chopped
  • 1 c. or so of leftover roast chicken, cut into cubes

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the butternut squash and onions onto a cookie sheet with the fresh herbs. Drizzle liberally with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake until the squash is tender, about 30 minutes.

Put the salad greens in a bowl.  Top with roasted vegetables, chopped chicken and pecans.  Dress with oil and vinegar and season with salt and pepper.  Serve immediately.

Heirloom Tomato Bloody Marys

It’s peak tomato season, so at the farmers market I’ve been rattling off all the tomato projects I know in a very thinly veiled attempt to convince people to buy huge amounts of tomatoes from me.  The usual tomato projects that I tell people about are making canned sauce, dehydrating heirlooms in the oven (they’re so good, and it’s so easy!), freezing bags of sungold tomatoes to make tomato bisque during the winter, canning tomato jam, ketchup, and bbq sauce…  I mistakenly omitted one of the best projects, though: the Bloody Mary.  Williams-Sonoma contacted me and asked if I’d share my recipe here as part of their focus on juicing this month.  Since Bloody Marys are delicious and we’re drowning in tomatoes, it seemed like a perfect idea.  (Especially since a bunch of the farmers from the Redwood Valley Farmers Market had been meeting up after the market for Bloody Marys for a good part of the summer, and every time we’re drinking them I keep saying I need to write up our recipe to share with everyone). bloody maryThese are bloody marys for right now.  While it’s true that you can cook tomato juice and can bloody mary mix for later (which I’m going to do), the base for this cocktail is just fresh tomato juice, bright and sweet. I used my champion juicer to juice a couple slightly overripe tomatoes that we had leftover from the market today, but feel free to use a blender if you don’t own a juicer.

The ingredients for this cocktail were almost all right out in the garden.  Jason picked some fresh dill to add to the bloody mary base, along with horseradish and green olives.  I raided the pantry for some pickled okra and dilly beans that I’d canned a few weeks ago for garnishes, though any sort of crunchy pickled vegetable is at home in a bloody mary.  The one thing I noticed is that you have to be careful not to over spice these since the fresh juice from heirloom tomatoes tastes much more delicate than regular cooked bloody mary mix.   Our first round was a little heavy on the horseradish and I thought it overwhelmed the flavor of the tomatoes, so naturally we had to do some more recipe testing and get it figured out.  Naturally. (Because cocktails).bloody mary & okraHEIRLOOM TOMATO BLOODY MARYS

The perfect cocktail to celebrate tomato season, and the perfect cocktail to relax after a long day working at the farmers market.

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Makes: 2 cocktails

Ingredients:

  • Bloody Mary Mix
  • 4 oz. vodka
  • Garnishes: pickled okra, dilly beans, lemon wedges and green olives

Fill two glasses with ice. Add 2 ounces of vodka (or less, of course) to each glass. Top of bloody mary mix. Stir. Garnish with a lemon wedge and pickled vegetables.

BLOODY MARY MIX

Ingredients:

  • 2 c. fresh heirloom tomato juice
  • juice from a wedge of lemon
  • 2 tbs. fresh dill, roughly chopped
  • a dash of worcestershire sauce
  • Tabasco sauce or cayenne pepper, to taste
  • 3 green olives and 1 tbs. olive juice
  • 1 tsp. prepared horseradish (or if you have fresh, substitute 1/2 tsp. fresh grated horseradish)
  • 1/2 tsp. celery salt
  • fresh cracked black pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a blender and puree. Taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary. Individual varieties of tomatoes will taste very different from one another and may taste good with more horseradish, a little extra heat, some extra lemon, etc.

How To Pull Off Your Own DIY Wedding, Pt 2: The Food!

When I saw all the boring menus offered on most wedding catering websites, we immediately decided just to cater the whole thing ourselves.  Other blogs talk about self-catering your wedding like it’s an insanely difficult task, along the lines of building a rocket ship or performing open-heart surgery, but it’s really not hard at all if you plan it right.  For anyone that enjoys cooking and is having a smallish wedding, I think it’s perfectly feasible. The key to doing this successfully is that you don’t want to actually cook anything on your wedding day.  I made virtually everything in advance and then just had my mom keep an eye on the oven while it all reheated. (We were outside trying to see if the dogs would sit still for wedding portraits.  They wouldn’t). wedding dog portraitIf you decide to go the self-catering route, there are a few things that you need to think about while you’re menu planning:

1. Does the dish hold well in the refrigerator for a day or two?

It’s perfectly fine to cook things several days in advance from a food safety standpoint, but will you be sacrificing texture or flavor? Steamed rice will dry out in the fridge, spaghetti is basically impossible to reheat without a microwave, mashed potatoes turn into one solid lump.  It’s better to think more along the lines of casseroles, braises, stews, curries and the like.  You can always do a test batch in the months leading up to the wedding and then see how it lasts in the fridge. Since we were cooking for such a large range of diets for our wedding day, we decided to go italian with everything. It tends to be a good common ground that will make everyone happy, from carnivores to vegans.

2. Do you have enough fridge space?

We were cooking for 25 people. We have a pretty average sized fridge and it was totally full of saran wrapped casserole dishes.  We couldn’t have fit one more thing if we tried.  Beverages were out in the garage and in coolers to stay cold. By this logic, I would estimate 1 refrigerator per 25 people. (You definitely don’t want to make a bunch of food and then realize you don’t have anywhere to store it…)

3. Remember food safety.

Remember to properly refrigerate the food you cook in advance. Make sure to reheat it thoroughly on the day of the event. When you’re cooking in the days leading up to the event, make sure you arrange your fridge properly and put vegetables and cooked food higher up than raw meats, which should be at the bottom of the fridge (so you don’t end up getting chicken juice getting on your raw vegan appetizers).

4. Menu Planning:

As with all local cooking, it’s not a good idea to get too set on a specific thing.  I knew what I had in the pantry and the garden, so I had some ideas, but I also shopped at the farmers market the week before the cooking.

With all that in mind, here’s the menu we figured out, doing our best to highlight the local foods we have available in February:

Friday Dinner:

We didn’t bother with a rehearsal or a rehearsal dinner, but for Friday night, when we had some friends over to help set up the space for the ceremony the next day, we had big pots of vegan curries that are simple to make and can hold on low for hours and hours.

 

and for Saturday, the wedding day:

Breakfast, self-serve for all of the guests that stayed with us:

Appetizers:

  • Vegan Summer Rolls stuffed with local greens, served with Peanut Sauce
  • Crab Rangoon, made with local dungennes crab and spring onions
  • Local Cheese Plate

Dinner:

  • Lasagna with beef & pork ragu, made with our home canned tomato sauce
  • Stuffed shells with local chard, ricotta custard and black pepper chevre from my friends at Shamrock Artisan Cheese, topped with our tomato sauce.
  • Vegan Polenta Casserole with Mushroom Ragu (The link takes to to a similar recipe with a different filling. Same idea though).
  • Garden Salad with greens from Floodgate Farms and Lovin’ Mama Farms

Dessert:

  • Vegan Chocolate Cake with Vegan Buttercream Frosting

 

Since I can’t write a post this long and not share a recipe, I should probably tell you about my summer rolls and peanut sauce…. summer rolls with peanut sauceThis is such a great appetizer; they always make people super happy and taste great.  Plus, since it’s really mostly salad, your guests don’t end up eating a bunch of rich food right off the bad (….. because that means food comas and food comas don’t really make for a fun party).  Summer rolls are super labor intensive, but they can be made a day in advance as long as you cover each layer thoroughly with saran wrap.   My new sister-in-law and I rolled about 100 of them while we hung out together the day before the wedding and it really went pretty quick.

The Kitchn has an excellent post about wrapping summer rolls, so I’m not going to bother re-photographing everything they already did….

For the peanut sauce, I use an approximation of the following recipe. (I wanted to tell you an exact version, but I burned out the motor in my blender, so now I just have to estimate.  I’ve made it so many times that this should be really close, though.)

Peanut Sauce

Cook Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 c. freshly ground peanut butter, usually found in the bulk-food section of the grocery store
  • 1 red onion, roughly chopped
  • 1/2″ of peeled ginger root, roughly chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 or 3 hot peppers, depending on your heat preference (dried or fresh will both work)
  • 1/4 c. roughly chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1  c. orange juice
  • 2 tbs. soy sauce

Combine everything but the peanut butter in a blender.  Blend until smooth.  Add the peanut butter and blend again.* If the sauce is too thick for dipping, add some orange juice.  If it’s too thin and watery, add some more peanut butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  If it tastes too spicy, add some honey or sugar.  You can serve this immediately but it will hold in the fridge for several days.

*If you put in the peanut butter first, you’ll burn out motor in the blender.

Note: Next time I make peanut sauce, I’ll check the amounts on this recipe, but if someone else makes it first, please let me know how it goes.

 

June Cook it! 2012 Resolution

It’s time.

The Cook it! 2012 June Resolution is:

MAKE JAM

I’ve been absolutely slammed with work for the last few weeks. Yesterday, in the middle of all this, I found some ollalieberries, fresh from the farm.  Sweet and tart, dark and juicy, they’re the berries I’ve been waiting for all winter long.  What started out as a stressful day with too many things that needed to be done instantly turned into a happy afternoon of jam making.  (Yes, when I see ollalieberries, I buy all of them and drop everything I was doing to make a pie or some jam. I’m a fruit nerd, what can I say).

Whether you’re a complete beginner or you already have years of canning experience, there’s really nothing quite like the joy of making a really simple batch of jam with some really excellent fruit — fresh off the vine, still warm from the sun.

When I waste time on the internet, it seems like everyone has been canning forever now and it’s no big revelation. If I happen to buy jars or pectin at the grocery store, though, without fail someone will stop me and ask about it.  Sweet little old ladies have stopped me in the aisle to say that it’s nice seeing me buying all these jars, that no one knows how to make jam or can food anymore.  (I thank them for the nice words but assure them that it’s become all the rage again.) Then, of course, the people in the checkout line, who will glance at my cart and say:

what are you doing with all those jars?

making jam, i say.

… oh, i’ve always wanted to learn how to do that….

To the cashier who bought a canner and cookbook but it’s been sitting on the shelf for a year now: don’t wait any longer, it’s time! To the lady in line whose grandma used to make pickled watermelon rind, just like my grandma did: dig out that recipe and get yourself a watermelon! To the guy at the farmers market who said he wished he had a women around who knew how to make jam: man, you don’t need to be a girl to can, just grab some of those strawberries, a couple jars and get to it!

Consider this your personal invitation to join the party…

In honor of the june resolution, summer, and all the people who are making jam even though it has nothing to do with the Cook it! 2012 project we’ve been working on, I thought I’d share a couple of the things that I’ve learned along the way.

TIPS FOR TOTAL BEGINNERS:

This isn’t meant to be all-encompassing, more just some information that might help when used hand-in-hand with a good recipe.

  • There are lots of posts out there on the internet that can explain the basics.  Food In Jars has a whole section of Canning 101 posts that explains some important stuff.  My recipe for peach jam with vanilla bean jam has step-by-step instructions to show the whole process from beginning to end if you want to take a look there.
  • When you’re just starting, make sure to find a recipe from a trusted source.  The best canning cookbook I own is the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.  The pectin box also counts as a trusted source.  The internet, especially if it’s just some really random looking website, does not necessarily count as a trusted source (I know, you’re reading this on the internet, right?)
  • There are, essentially, two different styles of jam making.  One uses commercial pectin (Ball, Clearjel, Pomona’s, etc.) to make the jam set.  This method is usually a pretty quick cooking time, and you just follow instructions included in the pectin box.  The other style uses the natural pectin in the fruit, which means that you combine the fruit, sugar and sometimes lemon juice, then cook it for awhile til it gels.  Usually you use a candy thermometer for this, since you really just have to cook it til 220 degrees).
  • Use a really big, thick-bottomed pot.  When jam boils over, it leaves awful burnt black crusty sugar all over your stove, which is virtually impossible to get off.
  • If you’re using commercial pectin: when they say “full rolling boil” they really mean “full rolling boil.”  The jam will boil up furiously and you’ll really know it when you see it.  A low simmer is not a boil.  If you only bring it to a low simmer for a minute, it won’t set right at all.
  • When they say “clean the rims of the jars,” they mean perfectly spotless, immaculate.  Not “basically clean” or “pretty much clean.”  I like to use a paper towel to do this.  If you leave any little bits of anything on those jar rims, the lids won’t seal later on.
  • A boiling water canner is really just a huge pot filled with water that has a rack on the bottom to set the jars on so they don’t clank around and break.  They’re cheap, often under $20.
  • Don’t touch the lids of the jars when they come out of the canner.  The need to sit and cool, which pulls down on the lid and makes it seal.  If you touch the lid, jostle the jar around, poke it and say “wow! I made jam!” you can potentially mess up the seal and ruin the batch.
  • In plain english, (hopefully to convince someone that hasn’t made jam before that it isn’t scary):  Canning jam is just cooking fruit with sugar and then putting it in clean jars.  You screw the lids on and basically just put it in a pot of boiling water for 10 minutes* to sterilize the jar and make the whole thing shelf stable.  Once the lids seal after they’re out of the canner, they’re good for a year.
  • Know your farmer.  Fruit for awesome canned goods comes from right from the farms/farmers markets, not the grocery store. I don’t care how cheap the peaches are at the WalMart superstore, it’s not worth it.  Sure, any old mediocre peach with a bunch of sugar is going to taste kind of good, but it’s not going to be the life-changing kind of experience that fundamentally changes the way you eat food and feed your family.

TIPS FOR EXPERIENCED JAMMERS

  • If you can find a wholesale source for bulk bags of organic sugar, you’ll save a lot of time and money.  A lot of the time, local natural foods stores can add on an extra 50 lb. bag of sugar onto their order for you and you’ll get a better price.  Then you’ll be ready to go when the fruit shows up.
  • Lemon juice always ends up being an issue if you’re trying to stay local.  I try to freeze lots of local lemon juice during the winter, but I almost always run out.  Costco has ridiculously cheap organic lemon juice, and Santa Cruz Organics makes semi-cheap bottled organic lemon juice that you can usually find with the other juices in the store.
  • Remember, if you run into a screaming good deal on super ripe, beautiful fruit, but you don’t have time to make jam, you can always prepare the fruit and then leave it to macerate, tossed with sugar in the fridge.  You can also prepare the fruit and then freeze it to make jam later .
  • Don’t forget to stay in touch with farmer friends (you do have farmer friends, right?)  Tell them at the beginning of the summer that you want to make a lot of peach jam, write down your name and phone number for them, and have them call you when the peaches are in.  Farmers like it when there’s a person that wants to buy a lot of fruit, because they want to make money and you want to buy their products.  Tell them to call you when they’re totally swimming in peaches (or plums, or whatever…), when they have so many that they don’t know what to do and they’re going to start rotting.  That’s your cue to stop in, buy them all for cheap, and stock your pantry for the year.

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If you want to be included in the jam round-up post, send me a link to the url or your post (or, if you don’t have a blog, e-mail me a picture of what you made)by June 15, 2012.  My e-mail is thejamgirl@gmail.com.

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P.S. I didn’t include the ollalieberry jam recipe because I didn’t really use one.  I glanced at the Blue Chair Fruit cookbook to check it first.  Their cookbook is right next to my Ball Cookbook, and I recommend buying it as well.  It’s a more advanced cookbook and doesn’t use commercial pectin, which is nice, and the jams tend to be much lower sugar than the Ball Book.  Plus the Blue Chair Fruit cookbook has super pretty pictures which will make you feel all warm and fuzzy about the whole jam and fruit thing.

I Love Winter Gardening: Greens & Sausage Gravy

When I first started keeping a vegetable garden, years ago, I was mistakenly under the impression that you only can grow things in the summer, between the frosts.  Once I realized that you can grow vegetables year-round here in Northern California, I really fell in love with winter gardening.  There’s none of the concern about high temperatures and keeping everything watered,  and winter vegetables are quite happy to soak up the fog, rain and frosts, requiring almost no maintenance from me. There are a whole array of vegetables that have the potential to overwinter: all of the dark leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, beets, all of the alliums….  Between all of these vegetables and the winter squash in the pantry, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to eat out of the garden all year round.

Here at our farm, we grow lots of dark leafy greens.   I like to harvest them very small, as mixed baby braising greens.  I’ve found that if I plant them out into the garden during September or October, they have plenty of time to get established and start growing before the days get really short.  I’ll keep planting through the whole winter, but greens planted in December or January won’t really do much of anything until the days get longer, maybe late February. A few of the Black Dog Farm Winter Greens, clockwise from top center: Wild Harvested Miner’s Lettuce; Blue Curled Scotch Kale from Baker Creek Seeds; Toscano Kale from Johnny’s Seeds;  Scarlett Frills from Johnny’s Seeds; Red Chidori Kale from Territorial Seeds; Red Russian Kale from Baker Creek Seeds

So yes, we have a ridiculous amount of kale floating around the farm for the winter months.  One of my favorite ways to use it is in this really simple, fast meal.  There’s nothing all that revolutionary about this; it’s just mashed potatoes, steamed braising greens, and some delicata squash, all topped with sausage gravy. If you’ve ever felt ambivalent about kale, though, this is absolutely the way to go.  I eat a lot of kale and every once in awhile, my stomach says:

Those people are right.

This is foul.

If I eat any more kale, I’m going to die.

All it takes is the teeniest smidgen of sausage gravy to make a huge pile of steamed greens go from boring and gross to the star of the plate and completely convince everyone at the dinner table that it’s worth eating.  The other reasons I like making this? It comes together in just 20 minutes, it uses very few ingredients so I don’t need to have 900 things in the fridge to make it, it uses seasonal produce from the garden, and it has a way of perfectly walking the line between feeling healthy and filling.  (Sure, you can serve this exact same meal with fried chicken, which is awesome, and I’ve done many times, but that’s another dinner).

I don’t really feel like necessary to write out full recipes for this, so let’s do it this way….

Greens & Sausage Gravy, or My Feet Hurt But I Still Want Something Good For Dinner

cook time: 20 minutes

The components of this meal:

1. Mashed Potatoes: I’m sure however you make them is fine…

2. Steamed Braising Greens: maybe with a crushed clove of garlic thrown in the pot.  I don’t steam them very long, maybe 10 minutes,  just until they’re tender.  If you’re working with older greens, or tough varieties like collards, you’ll obviously want to cook them longer.

3. A Side Vegetable From The Garden: that’s delicata squash up in the pictures, sauteed in olive oil, but in the summer it might be sliced tomatoes, or a cherry tomato salad.

4. Sausage Gravy: I already wrote out the recipe I use in this post back here, about grinding homemade breakfast sausage.  There are a bunch of pictures and instructions for how to make good sausage gravy if you don’t know how.  For a fast week night meal, the only notes I would add onto that recipe is that you can substitute milk for the stock if you don’t have it on hand.  (And that you don’t need to grind your own sausage for the gravy to be good, just look for a basic flavor of ground pork breakfast sausage, not something with…. maple syrup, or hot peppers in it.  That might make weird gravy).